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Mermaid motif on building in Umbria became the inspiration for La Sirena, The Mermaid's Villa.

How did you start writing?

From a young age I wrote poems about everything - from my parents not understanding me to my feelings about my teddy bear! I wrote a play at school in history about Henry II and Thomas A Becket that filled a whole exercise book. I poured out teenage angst in verse. And I dabbled with creative writing as part of a college course when I was 18. Some years later, in my mid-twenties, writing grabbed me again quite by chance when I tried to sign on to an adult education pottery class that was full. Flicking through the brochure I found creative writing. Why not? In a matter of days I was hooked again. I poured out poetry, articles, short stories, journals, you name it… The first article I had published (in 'Mother and Baby') was about my four year-old son’s unshakeable belief that he could fly. As you might imagine it was funny but scary at the same time... (He seemed so sure!) I went on to write short stories for women’s magazines and eventually a novel and after a couple of years it was me tutoring that creative writing class! My first novel was typed on a manual typewriter and returned by a literary agent as reading more like a psychological dissertation. Hopefully, I’ve come on a bit since then...

What is your working day like?

My main aim is to avoid looking at e-mails and social networking sites until I’ve got some work done! If I am in the middle of writing a novel, I deal with anything urgent first thing and then try to work in the mornings planning a scene – often longhand – or thinking something through. This might involve going somewhere like a café or a beach (depending on the weather) to write in a notebook. Then I get on to the computer and do a long stretch until lunchtime. After lunch I try to have a walk – it’s too easy to sit hunched over a computer all day; it’s important to stretch out, exercise and take some thinking time – and then I’ll either do some revisions or some research, depending on what stage I’m at. The internet is incredible useful for research but it is a distraction. Sometimes you can lose hours that way! If I’m doing mentoring work I’ll spend a lot of time reading and also writing up reports for authors or chatting with them. If I’m travelling and doing research then I’ll be out and about with my notebook all day and I’ll try to write things up in the late afternoon or evening. Once I feel I’ve achieved a day’s work (and this doesn’t always happen!) I’ll sort out post, admin work, e-mails and so on. I usually have a list of tasks to be achieved that day and I take great pleasure in crossing off each one when it’s done... Last thing at night before I go to sleep I try to think about the scene I’ll be writing in the morning so that it can start composting in my head... Unfortunately, I’m often so tired that I don’t get very far with that one. But who knows what’s going on in your subconscious while you sleep..?

Where do you write?

Wherever the mood takes me. I love writing longhand into a notebook and so I’ll take that to a café or a park bench or a clifftop and just get inspiration that way. It’s especially important for me to write scenes in the actual setting of the novel. If I’m working on my computer I’m at home at my desk and then I’m fully focused on the words rather than the inspiration.

Have you been to Sicily?

Yes. It’s a magical landscape. I was fascinated by the contrasts: the darkness and light; the tranquil with the undercurrent of menace; the beauty next to the undeniably rather seedy. These contradictions intrigued me. When I read up on the history of the island and the Sicilian fairy tales and myths it all started to make sense and I decided to use Sicily as a setting for the novel. And then of course there was the Sicilian food…

How did the idea for your book originate?

It originated with Sicily which I visited in October 2008. I was beginning to do some underwater snorkeling with the help of my husband – a qualified diver – and I also liked the idea of writing about a woman who was exploring the island both under and above the water. And the Sicilian food… (why do I keep mentioning that?) started me on a pathway to Flavia, the grandmother in the story, who was obviously going to be Sicilian and immersed in Sicilian cuisine. I also wanted to use three strong female voices from three generations to express their differences but also their undeniable connections and how this relates to their culture and their roots.

Did the book involve special research and/or travel?

Apart from going to Sicily, I also researched the history of the island – including the Mafioso connections. And I had to research aspects of World War II – as this affected British pilots and Sicily – and post war conditions in the UK and Sicily. I did some snorkeling in the bays off North West Sicily in order to write about the underwater landscape and researched the Marine Conservation areas and underwater caves there. It was also important to find out about earthquakes and how the earth moves… I researched the rail journey from Sicily to England undertaken by Sicilians after the war; there is no doubt that England was perceived as holding work and life opportunities that did not exist in the general poverty of post war Sicily. Last but not least I did a lot of enjoyable research about Sicilian fairy tales and mermaids!

Did the writing of The Villa bring any surprises for you?

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Never give up! Write a bit every day. Listen to the feedback of others (preferably those who know what they’re talking about) but ultimately listen to your own heart.

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